We haven’t even started the season — he’s not even commissioner yet — and already Adam Silver seems bothered by talking about tanking.
Well, a lot more questions are coming this year, tanking is going to be one of the big topics around the league this season. With a deep and loaded draft next season a number of teams have already started the “we’ll get bad to be good” train — Philadelphia, Utah, Phoenix, and Orlando (plus maybe the Bobcats, except they have just been bad for a few years and they did add Al Jefferson this season). Other teams with slightly better rosters that struggle out of the gate this season will shed assets to get better lottery odds for a shot at Andrew Wiggins and crew.
In an interview with Bucks.com (hat tip to Eye on Basketball) Silver said he is uncomfortable with all this because he doesn’t think it works.
“Number one, I don’t think it works, because culture is critical,” Silver said. “And I don’t think you can build a winning tradition by this undercurrent of ‘‘it’s really better to be bad and you need to be bad to be good.’ I haven’t seen it done successfully around the league. It makes me nervous that it has to be asked, so I recognize it’s something the league has to focus on.”
It hasn’t been successful? Then why exactly is it referred to as the Oklahoma City system? OKC was bad long enough to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with top four picks in consecutive drafts. That built the foundation of a contender.
It can work and a lot of GMs and owners like it better than feeling stuck in a rut in the middle of the league. You can build from the middle and win if you are smart and a little lucky (see the Indiana Pacers) but a lot of GMs and owners realize that to win in the NBA you need an elite player to get there. If you’re the Knicks or Lakers you can get those stars via free agency, but if you’re the Jazz or Magic you need a good draft.
(Plus, you can sell your owner on the roster being far less expensive for a few years. Owners like that.)
I think Silver swings and misses on the culture issue as well. The Magic and Sixers and every other team out there will tell you they are not “tanking” — they are not intentionally trying to lose games. Their coaches will put together detailed game plans, the players will bust their tails every night to win games, and there will not be a culture where losing is acceptable. That’s not how it plays in the locker room. What we are talking about is a management decision to put less talent (or younger, developing talent) in that locker room.
Tanking isn’t a sure fire rebuild method, but it is one that can work with a few breaks. And anytime you have potential franchise-changing guys coming into the league (and there are potentially multiple franchise changers in 2014) you’re going to see this. Anything you do to the lottery isn’t really going to change that.